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5/18/04 - BUSH ON ABUSE OF IRAQI DETAINEES - 2004-05-19

The first in a series of courts-martial of U.S. military personnel charged with abusing Iraqi detainees begins today [May 19th]. The court proceedings will be held in the Baghdad Convention Center and will be open to media coverage.

In Washington, top U.S. civilian and military officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba, testified before the U.S. Congress about the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison. General Taguba, a military prison expert, found there had been “systematic and illegal abuses” and "numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses. . .inflicted on several detainees” between October and December 2003.

President George W. Bush says that all instances of abuse will be investigated and those responsible will be held accountable:

“Because America is committed to the equality and dignity of all people, there will be a full accounting for the cruel and disgraceful abuse of Iraqi detainees. The conduct that has come to light is an insult to the Iraqi people, and an affront to the most basic standards of morality and decency. One basic difference between democracies and dictatorships is that free countries confront such abuses openly and directly.”

The abuses of Iraqi detainees are shameful and inexcusable. Still, they pale in comparison to the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein. His regime subjected thousands of Iraqis to horrendous torture, including cutting out tongues and amputating limbs, while murdering tens of thousands. President Bush says that despite the abuses committed by a small number of U.S. soldiers, Iraq is better off today than it was under Saddam Hussein:

“Those responsible for these abuses have caused harm that goes well beyond the walls of a prison. It has given some an excuse to question our cause and to cast doubt on our motives. Yet, who can doubt that Iraq is better for being free from one of the bloodiest tyrants the world has ever known? Millions of Iraqis are grateful for the chance they have been given to live in freedom -- a chance made possible by the courage and sacrifice of the United States military.”

President Bush says that a free Iraq will lead to progress throughout the Middle East.